Mr. Middleton Murry Protests

The letter below, written by Mr. Middleton Murry, refers to a paragraph in the September SOCIALIST STANDARD : —

Larling, nr. Norwich. September 3, 1932.
Your reference to me in the September SOCIALIST STANDARD is partly false, and partly misleading. I must ask you to publish this note.
I have never had “leanings towards the Communist Party” ; nor have I ever been “a worshipper of Russia.” I have never “quarrelled with the Communists” in the sense your statement bears. I have had no connection of any kind with the C.P.
I joined the I.L.P. in December last. In or about March this year I read a very sensible pamphlet published by the S.P.G.B.: “Why Capitalism will not Collapse.” Until that moment 1 had never even heard of the existence of the S.P.G.B. Since I agreed with its view that the expectation of a melodramatic collapse of Capitalism was mistaken and dangerous, I thought I ought to learn more about the S.P.G.B. In the letter in which I asked for information I used the phrase which you, rather disingenuously, quote : “It seems to me that I ought to join.”
I was surprised to discover that the constitution of the S.P.G.B. forbids its members to be members of the I.L.P. So I went no further into the matter. The restriction seemed to me stupid in itself, and, as my knowledge of the S.P.G.B. grew, indicative of a fundamental limitation in an otherwise valuable organisation. To represent me as having wavered between the C.P., the S.P.G.B., and the I.L.P., is quite false.
For my part I have to apologise to the S.P.G.B. for having implied that it was not a “genuinely Socialist organisation.” I am sorry to say that I had forgotten all about it when I made my remarks about the I.L.P.
I will not take up your space, or my time, in replying to your assertions that I understand nothing about Socialism, because in one passage I say that the essence of it is “economic equality.” “Economic equality” is as much the essence of Socialism as “the common ownership of the means of production.” You cannot get “economic equality” without establishing “the common ownership of the means of production.” Economic equality is the ethical aspect, common ownership of the means of production the economic basis, of a Socialist society.
It is the singular and distressing rigidity of mind revealed in so superficial a criticism that it made it easy for me to forget the claims of the S.P.G.B. to be a genuinely Socialist organisation.
Yours faithfully,

Mr. Murry’s letter does not justify his assertion that the references to him were “partly false and partly misleading,” except, perhaps, in respect of his attitude towards the Communist Party. The statement about the Communists to which he takes exception was this :—”He appears at first to have had leanings towards the Communist Party, and is still a worshipper of Russia, being under the impression that Socialism is being built up in that country.”

The writer of the offending paragraph appears to have been wrong in supposing that Mr. Murry’s leanings towards Communist doctrine had ever included a sympathy with the Communist Party in Great Britain. Mr. Murry defines his position in his book, “The Necessity of Communism.” In it he says (p. 15): “Leninism is … valid for Russia, ridiculous in England.”

In the Adelphi (August) he goes further and declares that it should be the function of the I.L.P. to build up

“something analagous to the Communist Party in Russia, the inward nucleus of convinced Socialists ‘whose creed carries conviction because they live in accordance with it.'”

(Having accepted Mr. Murry’s explanation of his attitude, it is necessary to point out that we certainly do not accept the argument that a whole body of theory for working class action can be valid in one country and ridiculous in another.)

Mr. Murry goes on to say that he has never been “a worshipper of Russia,” but he omits the second part of the passage, which reads, “under the impression that Socialism is being built up in that country.” His half-denial, therefore, leaves his attitude still undefined. The fact is that Mr. Middleton Murry’s party (the I.L.P.) commits itself unreservedly to the delusion that Socialism is being built up in Russia. If Mr. Murry shares his party’s view then he ought to be a “worshipper of Russia.”

The explanation given by Mr. Murry for liking and disliking the S.P.G.B. well illustrates his muddled state of mind. He says that after reading our pamphlet, “Why Capitalism will not Collapse” he wrote to us saying “It seems to me that I ought to join “; but was then surprised to discover that the constitution of the S.P.G.B. forbids its members to belong to the I.L.P. If Mr. Murry had read the pamphlet with ordinary care he would have seen that it states and explains the hostility to the I.L.P. which he did not discover until after he had written to us commending the pamphlet and its attitude.

He calls the S.P.G.B.’s refusal to permit membership of the I.L.P. “stupid in itself . . . and indicative of a fundamental limitation in an otherwise valuable organisation.” Now, at the time Mr. Murry made this discovery, the I.L.P. was in the Labour Party, and membership of the I.L.P., therefore, meant also membership of the Labour Party. So Mr. Murry’s view was that it was “stupid in itself” that a Socialist Party should not allow its members to be in the Labour Party. But since that time, and with Mr. Murry’s wholehearted approval, the I.L.P. itself has left the Labour Party and has imposed precisely the same “stupid restriction.” It now expels any member who belongs to the Labour Party.

Mr. Murry stands by his statement that the essence of Socialism is “economic equality.” The danger of such a phrase is that it is acceptable to people who utterly reject the demand for the common ownership of the means of production. No better example could be found than Mr. Tawney, of whom Mr. Murry wrote that he is a “genuine Socialist.” Mr. Tawney is a believer in “true economic equality,” as defined and explained by him. Yet in his “Acquisitive Society” (p. 99) Mr. Tawney writes : —

“The idea of some socialists that private property in land or capital is necessarily mischievous is a piece of scholastic pedantry as absurd as that of the Conservatives who would invest all property with some kind of mysterious sanctity.”

(Mr. Tawney is here discussing current problems, not the historical evolution of private property.)

Mr. Bernard Shaw is another advocate of “economic equality” who manages at the same time to be an opponent of common ownership, a supporter of capitalist wars, and of State capitalism, and an admirer of Mussolini.

Mr. Murry’s reasons for his disregard of the S.P.G.B. when he wrote of the I.L.P. as the only Socialist organisation in this country are quite unconvincing. First he says that he had forgotten all about the S.P.G.B. when he made his remark about the I.L.P. Then later on he says that it is the rigidity of the S.P.G.B. which “made it easy for me to forget the claims of the S.P.G.B. to be a genuinely Socialist organisation.” If Mr. Murry (who has the SOCIALIST STANDARD by post each month) forgot the existence of the S.P.G.B. how could he remember its alleged rigidity ? And if he remembered the rigidity how could that make it easy for him to forget its claims that it is genuinely Socialist ? Does Mr. Murry mean that he remembered it, but thought that it claims to be something other than genuinely Socialist ? If not, what does he mean ?

And if Mr. Murry forgot the S.P.G.B., did he also “forget” to reply to a letter sent to him on the same subject on August 4th ? And tBen “forget” again at the end of the month to refer to the matter in the September issue of Adelphi ?

If Mr. Murry’s memory works like this he should be grateful to us for having used a well-known specific in the shape of a little publicity to jolt it into activity.


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